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  • Writer's pictureАлександр Васильев

Sound Duration (final part)


As we learnes earlier, traditional note durations are typically binary divisions, meaning they are divided into halves (e.g., whole note, half note, quarter note). However, there are some extended techniques and contemporary music notations that involve non-binary divisions. One example is the use of "tuplets."

A tuplet is a rhythmic grouping that divides a note value into a different number of equal subdivisions than usual. For instance, a triplet divides a note into three equal parts, creating a non-binary division. Other examples include quintuplets (dividing a note into five parts), septuplets (dividing a note into seven parts), etc.

So, while traditional Western music notation primarily employs binary divisions, composers may use tuplets to introduce non-binary divisions for more complex rhythmic patterns.

In this example, we see that three eighth notes of the melody part are played during one quarter note in the bass line.

In musical notation tuplets are designated with square bracket above/below a group of notes with a number indicating the multiplicity of division.

Bluesy rhythm

A specific, frequently encountered example of a non-binary division of durations is the so-called “bluesy rhythm”, which is characterized by alternating long and short (double and single duration) notes.

For simplicity, such groups are written as pairs of eighth notes, although in reality they are triplets consisting of a quarter note and an eighth note. Listen to and analyze the rhythmic pattern of "A Horse With No Name" as an example of a bluesy rhythm.

Dotted Notes

There are also cases when a note can last one and a half standard durations, for example: 1/4 + 1/8 or 1/8 + 1/16. This increase in duration is recorded using a dot to the right of the note.

Listen to an example of a melody in which used duration increased by one and a half times — a few bars from the song Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.

The time signature of the composition (more on musical time signatures below) is 6/8. In bars 16 and 18, the eighth notes alternate evenly, with strong first and fourth beats. Measures 15 and 17 show us an example of a one-and-a-half increase in the duration of both eighth notes (the first note followed by three sixteenth notes) and quarter notes (the second half of the measure).

Visual representation of note durations using Lego bricks

In case of increasing the duration not by 50%, but by 75%. In this case, two dots are placed after the note.

The same entry applies to pauses.

Time Signature

The time signature is written as a fraction, the numerator of which is the number of beats in a measure, and the denominator is the duration of the beats.

Each period of alternating strong and weak beats is called a measure. In musical notation, measures are indicated by vertical lines the height of the entire staff, separating each measure from its neighbors.

Time Signature Examples:

Main articulations, affecting the duration of notes

An articulation is a way (technique and method) of picking a note or group of notes that form a sound. Articulations determine the character, timbre, attack and other sound characteristics.

Legato (connected, smoothly in italian) is a playing technique in which there is a smooth transition from one sound to another, there is no pause between sounds. Legato shows that the notes are played smoothly and coherently, moving from note to note without any intervening pause.

In musical notation, legato is indicated by a slur line, called league, that unites the notes played using this technique. Legato may also be indicated by the word "legato" next to the corresponding group of notes.

Note: In guitar terminology, legato is also means the technique of playing notes with the only left hand, without the participation of the right.

There are three techniques for legato on the guitar:

  • Ascending legato, or "hammer on" (highlighted with the blue color) is performed as follows: after the finger of the left hand is placed on the desired fret, the finger of the right hand picks a sound, after which the finger of the left hand moves down to the fret higher, thus picking the second sound.

  • In descending legato, or "pull off" (highlighted with the yellow color), the opposite happens: the fingers of the left hand are pre-positioned on the desired frets, and after the first sound is picked with the finger of the right hand, the finger of the left hand, pressing the string, pulls it down at an angle of approximately 45 degrees relative to the fretboard, and thus making the next sound.

  • Combined legato is a serial performance of ascending and descending legato in a certain sequence. At the example above we see hammer on followed by pull off on a first string (highlighted with the pink color).

Note: if a league (slur) connects identical notes, this means an increase in the duration of the sound: the first note increases by the duration of the second note (which is not articulated). In the middle of the measure, two sixteenth notes B are joined - as a result, the duration of the sound is 1/8.

Staccato (sharply, abruptly in italian) — a musical articulation that instructs sounds to be performed abruptly, separating one from the other with pauses. Staccato is one of the main ways of producing sound, opposed to legato.

Staccato can be applied to notes of any duration, indicating a reduction in length by half approximately.

Indicated by the word staccato or by dots above or below the note heads.

Non-legato — means "usual" picking.

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